The unconditional U.S. support of Israel's military campaign in Gaza has meant unconditional support of Israel's mass killings of Palestinian civilians and medieval siege tactics that amount to collective punishment. It has meant the unconditional supply of American weapons to Israel in the full knowledge that they are being used to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. And it has meant Washington's unconditional deployment of its political and diplomatic influence, at the United Nations and elsewhere, to ensure Israel can continue down this path with impunity.
To put it bluntly, the United States is an active and complicit partner in Gaza's killing fields, and judging by official statements coming out of Washington, the Biden administration is proud, even boastful of its role. "A cease-fire right now really only benefits Hamas," National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told journalists Tuesday.
Yet America's unconditional support of Israel nevertheless masks an important development that has received insufficient attention: a collapse in U.S. confidence in the Israeli political and military leadership, and with it a collapse in U.S. confidence in Israel's military and intelligence capabilities. This is far more serious than during the October War 50 years ago. In 1973, the Israeli military experienced a resource crisis that could be compensated by a massive U.S. airlift of arms. In 2023, Israel is experiencing a crisis of leadership and ability, which no amount of advanced U.S. weaponry can compensate for.
The U.S. is an active and complicit partner in Gaza's killing fields, and judging by official statements, the Biden administration is proud, even boastful of its role.
- Mouin Rabbani
This collapse in confidence will have significant long-term consequences for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Israel will lose its status as "the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk," as it was once described by Ronald Reagan's secretary of state, Alexander Haig. U.S. decision-makers, particularly but not limited to military and intelligence, will no longer take their cues from their Israeli counterparts, and will begin to treat their swaggering pretensions to omniscience and omnipotence with the scepticism that they have always deserved. The USS Israel today looks more like a leaky trawler in urgent need of repair to stay seaworthy—which is evident in the fact that not one but two U.S. aircraft carrier groups have been sent to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Against this backdrop, there is growing evidence that the U.S. is playing a direct role in Israeli decision-making. During their recent visits to Israel, both President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met and led discussions with Israel's emergency war cabinet—"almost unheard of in Israel's history," as the New York Times noted. Washington has dispatched senior military officers to Israel, formally to "advise" in the planning of military operations in Gaza, but one suspects their real mission is more than that, amid reports that the Biden administration doesn't believe Israel has "achievable military objectives in Gaza" and that the Israeli military isn't ready for a ground invasion. The aircraft carriers in the region reflect a U.S. assessment that Israel does not possess the military wherewithal to simultaneously confront Hamas and Hezbollah on its southern and northern borders, respectively.
The U.S. forces being deployed around Israel are not going to fight Hamas on Israel's behalf, take the lead on freeing the civilian hostages in Gaza, or oversee humanitarian assistance into the bombarded strip. Their main task is to ensure that Israel's military—whose leadership and overall readiness are in chaos and disarray and whose ground forces are no longer considered a serious fighting force—does not launch a ground offensive in Gaza unless and until it has a strategy and objectives that Washington believes are attainable. For a variety of domestic, regional and geopolitical reasons, Washington is unwilling to countenance another Israeli failure. And for all its unconditional support, the Biden administration won't give Israel's leaders the freedom of action to inflict an additional fiasco upon themselves. Indeed, the systematic destruction of the Gaza Strip from the air over the past two weeks may prove to be an alternative to a major ground invasion rather than its prelude.
This crisis has quickly punctured the comfortable illusions of the Biden administration, put forth by White House advisers like Jake Sullivan and Brett McGurk, of a "new" Middle East constructed for them by Netanyahu. Their record in Gaza has also not only exposed the self-serving core of the "rules-based international order," whose survival they claim is at stake in Ukraine, but ensured its widespread repudiation by the Global South that chafes at the hypocrisy.
In the alternate universe that is Washington, the international consensus on a peaceful resolution of the question of Palestine has acquired the status of wishful thinking.
- Mouin Rabbani
Washington's approach in Gaza is not only military but also political. Unlike their Israeli partners, American policy elites are debating and planning for what could replace that which Israel seeks to destroy in Gaza. The various proposals for "the day after" put forward so far—by Steve Simon; Robert Satloff, Dennis Ross and David Makovsky at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and of course Thomas Friedman—likely reflect U.S. government thinking to a significant degree.
Like so much that emerges from the Washington echo chamber when it comes to Israel and Palestine, these proposals are based on excessively generous helpings of wishful thinking. Their multiple moving parts start, somehow, with the total and successful eradication of Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups in Gaza by an Israeli military that, on Oct. 7, collapsed like a house of cards. They then propose perpetuating Gaza's political-administrative separation from the West Bank through a U.N. mandate for the territory that will, improbably, enjoy Russian, Chinese and Arab acquiescence in the Security Council. This would supposedly include the deployment of Arab military forces to Gaza, apparently eager to ensure Israel faces no further Palestinian hostility, who would be welcomed in the rubble of Gaza with rice and flowers.
Pivotal to some of these proposals is a Saudi leadership that is prepared to foot the vast reconstruction bill from Israel's systematic razing of Gaza—thus, in the process, reviving a key U.S. objective of Saudi-Israeli diplomatic normalization. The plans call for new Palestinian elections, which, its authors insist, a thoroughly discredited and detested Palestinian Authority would win. The political horizon of all these supposed plans is the hollow revival of the Oslo process.
It would, of course, be far simpler for Washington to demand an immediate cessation of hostilities, an end to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, a moratorium on all settlement activity beyond the 1967 boundaries, and an orderly Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines, according to the international consensus (including several U.N. resolutions). It could give Israel the option to fulfill the latter without an agreement, as it insisted on doing in the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Yet in the alternate universe that is Washington, it is this international consensus on a peaceful resolution of the question of Palestine that has acquired the status of wishful thinking.